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Political Wire logo Netanyahu Edges Ahead In Israel
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“I’m Not An Expert In Monetary Policy’
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  It's a Bloodbath at DHS
      •  Trump Designates Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a Terrorist Organization
      •  Trump Administration Kills Baseball Deal
      •  Swalwell Announces Presidential Run
      •  Alabama Senate Race Just Keeps Getting More Crowded
      •  Trump and Nadler Have Been Fighting Each Other for Decades
      •  Israel Heads to the Polls
      •  India, Too

It's a Bloodbath at DHS

It's not quite the Saturday Night Massacre, because it didn't happen on a single night, nor on a Saturday, but it's awfully close. Donald Trump is cleaning house at the Dept. of Homeland Security, and so heads aplenty have rolled in the last 48 hours or so.

The big news on this front came on Sunday, of course, when DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was required to resign. This followed on the heels of Trump abruptly canceling the nomination of Ron Vitiello for Immigration and Customs Enforcement director. On Monday, Trump fired U.S. Secret Service director Randolph "Tex" Alles, while the departures of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Cissna, DHS undersecretary for management Claire Grady, and DHS general counsel John Mitnick were also announced.

To put this in context, let's look at the 25 top-level jobs in DHS, as listed on the Department's webpage. These positions were vacated in the last 48 hours:

Under Secretary, Management
Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Director, U.S. Secret Service
General Counsel

These are the positions that were already vacant, or being handled by an acting official:

Deputy Secretary
Under Secretary, Science and Technology
Under Secretary, Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans
Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Director, Operations Coordination
Chief Privacy Officer
Inspector General

And these are the positions that are currently held by a Senate-approved individual:

Under Secretary, Office of Intelligence and Analysis
Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Director, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
Director, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers
Administrator, Transportation Security Administration
Assistant Secretary, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office
Assistant Secretary, Office of Legislative Affairs
Assistant Secretary, Office of Partnership and Engagement
Assistant Secretary, Office of Public Affairs
Executive Director, Joint Requirements Council
Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties

In other words, more top-level positions at DHS are vacant (13) than are occupied (12).

This maneuvering is, by all accounts, the work of immigration hardliners in the administration, with Stephen Miller taking the lead, but also getting an assist from NSA John Bolton and First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, among others. The goal, of course, is to implement an even harsher policy than the one that was already in place. Now, given that Nielsen and the other folks who were just cashiered were responsible for the family separations, and the children in cages, and the two young immigrants who died, it is unclear exactly what a harsher policy might look like. Perhaps having all the children of immigrants taken from their parents and then auctioned off on eBay with the proceeds going to the Trump Foundation? It's also hard to see how that policy can avoid running afoul of the law.

The Washington Post has a pretty good list of what this all means, both in terms of immigration and in terms of the bigger picture for the administration:

  • Trump alone cannot fix it, but he's still learning the limits of the presidency and the added constraints that come with divided government.
  • Trump prefers to surround himself with yes men.
  • The proliferation of "acting" secretaries continues.
  • Only three women will remain in Trump's Cabinet after this week. There are 15 men.
  • [Acting Secretary Kevin] McAleenan does not appear to fully share Trump's vision for restricting immigration.
  • It's not clear that someone who will be "tough" enough for Trump can get confirmed to lead ICE or DHS.
  • Stephen Miller is ascendant.
  • Nielsen's departure is also a win for John Bolton, who has consolidated power since John Kelly left.
  • Democrats feel no sympathy for Nielsen, and they're determined not to let her rebrand herself.
  • The problems at the border remain.

Will more DHS officials find themselves filing for unemployment today? Maybe, maybe not, but either way, this is going to get much uglier. (Z)

Trump Designates Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a Terrorist Organization

On Monday, Donald Trump made a bit of a surprise announcement, as he declared that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is now considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist organization. His statement on the matter says that, "IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft."

We should note, first of all, that "terrorist" is actually an empty term that conveys more of a value judgment than it does any useful information. To make this point, (Z) tends to tell his students about two fellows, both who used any means necessary (including violence) to resist their national governments, which each found oppressive and immoral. In 1959, the U.S. deemed the first fellow to be a terrorist, and was happy to help his government capture and imprison him in 1962. The second fellow, on the other hand, was called a "freedom fighter," and not only did the U.S. not assist in his capture, it helped supply him with arms throughout the 1970s. The "terrorist," as you may have guessed by now, was Nelson Mandela, while the "freedom fighter" was Osama bin Laden. So again, don't assign too much importance to that "terrorist" label.

The more important question is: Did denouncing the IRGC make the U.S. safer, or help Americans in any way? The answer is surely no; Iran tends to do what they want in the Middle and Near East (subject to Russian approval), and poking them in the eye is not going to change that. Diplomacy might, but diplomacy just got that much harder, particularly following the cancellation of the nuclear deal. In fact, declaring the IRGC to be a terrorist organization almost certainly made the Iranians more likely to do something unpleasant, not less so. It is, in the end, an insult—roughly equivalent to calling the Navy SEALs terrorists (which, in fact, is basically how Iran plans to respond today, designating the entire U.S. military to be a terrorist organization).

So, what was the purpose in doing this? First, and most obviously, it's a clear attempt to help Benjamin Netanyahu at the polls today (see below). The Israeli Prime Minister not only cheered Trump's decision, he took partial credit. Meanwhile, it's also a signal to the Christians in Trump's base that he's getting tough on a Muslim nation. And so, we appear to have another case of the President putting his own political needs ahead of the safety and security of the United States. (Z)

Trump Administration Kills Baseball Deal

Speaking of capricious and self-serving decisions, Donald Trump's administration also announced on Monday that it was canceling the agreement the Obama administration made with Cuba to allow that nation's baseball players to come to play in the United States.

For those who do not follow baseball, we will point three things out:

  1. The number of players in question is fairly small; there have been only a couple of hundred Cuban-born players in the history of Major League Baseball, and only a few dozen of those played in the last decade. Breaking into the majors is hard.

  2. That said, the players capable of making the majors come regardless of what their government (or the U.S. government) says. This may have something to do with the fact that the average professional baseball player in Cuba makes about $2,500 a year, while the average major leaguer makes $4.38 million a year (with a median salary of $1.5 million).

  3. In the absence of the exchange agreement, ambitious Cuban players will be left to make their move the old-fashioned way, which involves either a raft to Miami, or—more commonly—surreptitious travel to some other country, where the player establishes residence (and sometimes citizenship) before coming to the United States. This path involves enormous danger, sometimes very high expenses (in the form of bribes), and may leave the players unable to see their families or return to their homes for years or decades.

In short, this policy decision does not benefit the United States in any way. What it does, however, is force Cuban baseball players to forgo a safe passage to America for one that is fraught with danger and significant personal consequences.

Why, then, would the administration do this? There are three possibilities, and it is likely that all of them are on target. First, it's a high-profile anti-immigration gesture. It affects only a small number of people, but they are very high-profile people. Second, it undoes yet another initiative of Barack Obama, which Trump loves to do. Third, it pleases anti-Cuba/anti-Castro voters, particularly in Florida. So, as with the IRGC declaration (see above), it's a case of Trump concerning himself only with his own needs and those of the base, while showing not a whit of concern for the safety and well being of anyone else. (Z)

Swalwell Announces Presidential Run

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) decided that 16 declared Democratic presidential candidates (plus Joe Biden) weren't enough, and so he decided to add his hat to the pile, using an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to announce that he, too, is running in 2020.

With most of the Democratic candidates, there is a plausible series of events where they end up with the party's nomination. There are also a few folks where even an Oscar-winning screenwriter could not concoct a reasonable scenario (ahem, Tulsi Gabbard). Swalwell is in that latter group. He's not even well known in his home state of California, and has zero name recognition nationwide. Further, as we pointed out in our candidate profile of him, every lane that he might occupy is already home to a candidate with a stronger claim to that lane than he has. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) and Beto O'Rourke are better at being young and charismatic. Joe Biden is better at reaching across the aisle. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have stronger progressive bona fides. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is first in line for California's delegates. And so on.

Yesterday, we wrote that most of the presidential candidates in the field probably think they've got a shot. If there's an exception to that, it surely would be Swalwell. This has just got to be about getting his name recognition up, in anticipation of a future run for some office higher than representative, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) seat if she retires at the end of her term, or Harris' if she ends up vacating to move to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. (Z)

Alabama Senate Race Just Keeps Getting More Crowded

The Democratic presidential field isn't the only one where elbow room is at a premium. Anyone and everyone thinks that Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is going to have a very hard time keeping his seat up against any Republican who is not a child molester, and so the sharks are definitely circling. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is in, but he's unpopular. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is thinking about jumping in, but he's a carpetbagger. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) is thinking about jumping in, too, but he has a bad habit of making Nazi references. Roy Moore is even thinking about taking another stab at it.

On Monday, yet another candidate officially entered the race: Tommy Tuberville. His name may not be familiar to all of our readers, so let us summarize his qualifications:

  • He won many college football games as head coach, including 85 at Auburn University
  • He is a Republican
  • He is a big fan of Jesus

You will notice there is nothing there about political experience, because he doesn't have any. We live in a world where that does not matter to the members of one of the major political parties, and where we might find out in 2020 that it doesn't matter to the members of the other major party, either. Tuberville wouldn't even be the first college football coach to be sent to Congress with no political experience; former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne pulled off that feat in 2001, ultimately serving three terms in the House.

That said, Tuberville does have a few black marks on his résumé that could come back to haunt him:

  • He also coached at Miami, in the early 1990s, when it was the cheatingest school this side of SMU
  • He once slapped a graduate assistant during a football game, on national TV
  • He was sued in 2010, along with his business partner John David Stroud, for defrauding hedge fund investors of $1.7 million. Stroud was sent to prison for 10 years; Tuberville settled with the terms kept under seal.

To help navigate these potential landmines, one of Tuberville's first hires for his campaign was none other than...Sean Spicer. There is no truth to the rumor, however, that Spicer's first job was to pull out a photo of the 2005 Auburn-Alabama game and to tell the press that there were actually 300,000 fans in attendance, and not 87,451, as you've been led to believe.

In any event, Jones has to be thrilled to see so many Republican candidates, especially ones who have some serious weaknesses, lining up to rip one another to shreds. (Z)

Trump and Nadler Have Been Fighting Each Other for Decades

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Donald Trump are at each other's throats, but this isn't the first time. Their animosity goes way back.

In the 1980s, a much younger Donald Trump wanted to raze a huge tract of dilapidated land (a former railroad yard) on Manhattan's west side and build a development consisting of half a dozen skyscrapers, one of which would have been 150 stories high, topped by a penthouse Trump planned to live in. It would have been so high that Trump would have had to call the concierge to find out what the weather was like on the ground. Trump also wanted government subsides for his development. The only fly in the ointment was that the local state assemblyman—you guessed it: Jerrold Nadler—was firmly opposed to it. For the Washington Post's story, one of Nadler's former aides, Linda Rosenthal, summarized Nadler perception of Trump, saying: "His casinos failed. He lost money on deals. He left banks on the hook for his bad financial plans ... He was just such a braggart and such an insincere person, but Jerry saw through that." Nadler organized the people in his district to oppose Trump's plan.

When Nadler was elected to Congress in 1992, he continued to oppose Trump, only with even more clout. Trump actually tried negotiating with Nadler, scaling back the heights of the buildings and offering a park, but not only was Nadler having none of it, he worked behind the scenes to write into law a prohibition on the use of government money to relocate the West Side Highway, an eyesore that would have been visible from all of Trump's buildings. Nadler won and Trump's plans for what he called "Television City" never happened. Trump never forgave him.

As a result of all this history, each man knows a lot about the other. Trump, in particular, knows that Nadler is not someone you mess with lightly, and has so far not given him a nickname, although given his size prior to weight-loss surgery 20 years ago, Trump called him "Fat Jerry." So the current battle between the two men is merely a continuation of a long-running one, only this time the power situation is different, with Trump as president and Nadler in a position to impeach him. (V)

Israel Heads to the Polls

Today, Israeli voters will head to the polls, and will (indirectly) decide whether to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a fifth term (which would make him the first Israeli leader to pull off the feat). Things have gotten pretty ugly, as Netanyahu—presumably sensing he's in some trouble—tried to rally his base this weekend with a hardline stance on the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, promising to "impos[e] Israeli sovereignty there." This would aggravate the international community, and would also be something of a death knell for any sort of two-state solution. Some are even going so far as to call it "apartheid."

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., this matter has found its way into politics. Democrats continue to be none-too-happy with Netanyahu and his policies, and Beto O'Rourke went so far this weekend as to declare that the U.S.-Israel relationship, if it is to be successful, "must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist." Meanwhile, Donald Trump spoke to a group of American Jews this weekend, and after telling them that Netanyahu is "your prime minister," (raising the anti-Semitic trope that Jews have dual loyalties), he urged them to reject the Democrats, who he accused of advancing the "most extreme, anti-Semitic agenda in history." That's quite the claim, especially considering the career of a certain German dictator in the 1930s and 1940s.

Trump's goal here is to encourage what the Conservative Political Action Committee is now calling the Jexodus: the mass movement of American Jews from the Democratic Party to the GOP. We stand by our firm belief that this strategy cannot possibly work. Jewish voters certainly recognize absurd rhetoric like the example in the previous paragraph, not to mention the President's propensity for pointing out that there are some "good people" among the neo-Nazis. And despite what Trump apparently thinks, they are not likely to be influenced by his support of Netanyahu. In fact, the latest AJC poll of American Jewish opinion found that nearly 60% of them support a two-state solution, the very policy that Netanyahu came out against this weekend. More broadly, the values of most American Jews are simply not in alignment with Trump. To take just one example, the AJC poll also asked respondents about their opinion on immigration. Only 17% want to see it restricted, while nearly three times as many (46%) want to see it increased.

In any case, back to Israel. We're a polling site, so we should probably say something about what the polls of the race tell us. There have been a whole bunch of them, and—to quote the Magic 8-Ball—the future is cloudy. It appears the Blue & White Party, which is the main challenger to Netanyahu, will end up as the single-largest party in the Knesset, though it will be close. However, right-leaning parties are likely to take a majority of the seats overall. That could put Netanyahu back in the driver's seat. On the other hand, Netanyahu's governing coalition currently has just 61 seats, compared to 59 for the opposition, so even a slight shift today could put him out of power. Complicating things even further is that Israel has a polling embargo as of Friday, so there's no way to know if anything changed over the weekend. The upshot is that we'll know soon who won, and until then, who knows? (Z)

India, Too

Israel isn't the only country deciding whether or not to keep their prime minister, or to try someone new. This week, (some) voters in India will head to the polls to vote on a number of issues, not the least of which is their support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (and the party's allies). In this case, polls are a little clearer, and suggest Modi is in an excellent position to keep his job and to fend off a challenge from Rahul Gandhi.

That said, we are not going to know the result today, tomorrow, or by the end of the week. In fact, we won't know for sure for well over a month. India, as you may have heard, is a large country with a lot of people. Further, it has some pretty serious anti-ballot-fraud laws, and also a requirement that no voter have to travel more than 2 km to vote. In some cases, that's no small accommodation to pull off (see, for example, the story of Guru Bharatdas Darshandas, who lives in a remote Hindu temple encircled by the hunting grounds of 500 lions). Anyhow, add it all up, and there is no way India can pull off a one-day election. So, they essentially hold regional elections every few days, so they are able to get to everyone, and we won't know Modi's fate until May 19. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr08 Nielsen Meeting with Trump Becomes Nielsen Resignation
Apr08 Mulvaney Says Democrats Will Never See Trump's Tax Returns
Apr08 Nadler: Congress Has a Right to See Mueller's Report
Apr08 Nunes to Send Eight Criminal Referrals to Barr
Apr08 Polls: Voters Support Democrats on the Issues
Apr08 Democratic Candidates Are Struggling to Win Their Home States
Apr08 Top Democratic Senate Candidates Aren't Running
Apr08 Booker Raises $5 Million
Apr08 Manchin May Run for Governor in 2020
Apr08 Gardner Wants to Legalize Pot to Help His Reelection Chances
Apr08 Monday Q&A
Apr05 William Barr Is Losing the Narrative (And So, by Extension, Is Donald Trump)
Apr05 Trump's Staff Appears to Have Won the Border Battle
Apr05 Second Presidential Veto Is On Tap
Apr05 Trump Taps Herman Cain for the Fed
Apr05 Michael Cohen Has More Singing To Do, Apparently
Apr05 New Mexico Votes to Join National Popular Vote Interstate Compact
Apr05 Republicans Are Doing their Best to Help Doug Jones Keep His Seat
Apr05 Tim Ryan Throws His Hat into the 2020 Ring
Apr05 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Seth Moulton
Apr04 House Judiciary Committee Approves a Subpoena for Mueller's Report
Apr04 Trump Changes His Mind on Releasing Mueller's Report
Apr04 Some Mueller Investigators Think Report Was More Damning than Barr Suggested
Apr04 House Democrats Officially Ask for Trump's Taxes
Apr04 Biden: I Won't Do It Anymore
Apr04 Senate Goes Nuclear
Apr04 Ambassadorships Now Cost $350,000
Apr04 War Erupts within the Democratic Party
Apr04 Iowa Will Allow Remote Voting in the Caucuses
Apr04 Conservative Leads in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race
Apr04 First Quarter Fundraising Reports Are Dribbling In
Apr04 Thursday Q&A
Apr03 Trump Flails Around on Border Policy
Apr03 Behind the Healthcare Flip-Flop
Apr03 Too Many Democrats?
Apr03 And Speaking of Too Many Democrats...
Apr03 Life In the Digital Age, Part I: Google Search "Winners"
Apr03 Life In the Digital Age, Part II: New Facebook Algorithms Haven't Had Much Impact
Apr03 Life In the Digital Age, Part III: The 2020 Census is the New Frontier in Hacking
Apr03 Lori Lightfoot Elected Mayor of Chicago
Apr02 White House Tries to Figure Out What Kind of Theater to Perform at the Border
Apr02 Trump Rammed through Dozens of Security Clearances
Apr02 Democrats Preparing to Make Mueller Report Subpoena Official
Apr02 More Trouble for Moore
Apr02 Two Republican AGs Break Ranks on Obamacare
Apr02 Another Accusation Against Biden
Apr02 Buttigieg Is Raking it In
Apr02 Luján Will Run for Senate
Apr01 Trump Threatens to Close the U.S.-Mexico Border
Apr01 Trump Faces Five Court Battles on Health Care